Tag Archive for: zero-sum game

Celebrating Your Competition

Vocational success is not a zero-sum gain. Another’s accolades, accomplishments, and approval do not take away from yours. As I wrote yesterday, there’s enough work, enough success to go around. And if that’s the case, shouldn’t we celebrate each other?

The zero-sum game vocational mentality is present in every occupational field, and the writing world is no exception. I’d like to write well-regarded novels, great magazine articles, and sought after works of non-fiction. So often, though, these ego-driven career hopes fill us with a sort of envy for those who’ve achieved those very things. This is the envy that might short-circuit the celebration of our neighbors, the good work they’ve done.

Today, I’d like to step away from my own work. I’d like to share the works of a few writers (my chosen occupational field) who are using words well. I’d like to celebrate my vocational neighbors.

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Steve Wiens released his new book, Whole last week. His book offers a beautiful message, that we’ve been written into the story of God no less than any of the biblical characters. It’s a book of healing. It’s well done. I wish everyone I knew would read it.

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Shawn Smucker wrote a YA novel a few years back, a work that my sons adored. (Ian still claims it’s one of his favorite books.) His book, The Day The Angels Fell, has been picked up by Revell and releases this month. If you have young adults in your house, buy this book. If you don’t? Buy it anyway. I promise it’ll take you back to your childhood in all the best ways.

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Abby Perry wrote a fantastic piece for Fathom Magazine about parenting as narration. The tension is palpable:

My fingers are wrapped tightly around the steering wheel. The intersection is crowded and confused by construction; it is hot; it is lunchtime; a nearly-five-year-old is asking me about death from the backseat while his two-year-old brother looks at books.

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Ashley Abrasion wrote this article for the Washington Post, which was picked up by the Toronto Star. In “How my Mother’s Opioid Addiction Affects my Experience as a Parent,” Ashley writes:

My mother was the Newport 100 cigarettes she smoked and the empty cans of Pepsi she left lying around the house. She was her weekly trips to the emergency room — for what, exactly, I was too young to know — and her dramatic emotional outbursts, often aimed at me. She was forgotten parent-teacher conferences, her body’s constant weakness, the way she seemed to have it all together when my friends came over, only to lose her mind when we were alone. In my eyes, my mother was defined by her brokenness and her addiction. Those things always eclipsed her best intentions.

Each of these works comes from another writer or author in my field, folks some may say are my competition. And yet, their words are worth celebrating. Their successes are worth sharing. Sharing this success does not take away from my own.

How will you celebrate your vocational neighbor today? Can you think of a way to congratulate, promote, or praise a colleague (even a competitor) for the work they’re doing? Remember, the praise you give does not take away from the work you’re doing. In fact, it’s this sort of graciousness that might release you from your own envy, and by this, perhaps bring a little light to your daily occupation.

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Vocational Freedom (Release the Zero-Sum Game)

For twelve years, I worked as a litigator at the largest firm in the state of Arkansas. Litigation so often felt like a zero-sum game, a winner-take-all proposition. My win was my opponent’s loss, and the winners were rewarded. The good litigators never lost, they said, and the awful litigators never last. This is the way the law works. She’s not a jealous mistress; she’s a black widow.

The zero-sum game is an unspoken facet of the lawyer’s ethos. If the cases came to my door, they didn’t come to yours; if they came to yours, they didn’t come to mine. And in that environment, it was easy to loathe (cordially, civilly, privately) your colleague’s success. Their accolades, their clients, their cases were just that–theirs.

Speaking to the baby-lawyer version of myself, I might say these things: It’s not as winner-take-all as you might think, Seth; celebrate your colleagues’ success; there’s plenty to go around.

I’m in a different vocational space, now. Now, I write for a living. I pitch projects against other people pitching projects. Sometimes, I pitch significant works against friends. And yes, in the pitch-against-pitch showdown, one will win and the other will lose. Is this any different than the law? Isn’t my new vocation mired in the same zero-sum games?

In the last six months, I’ve lost a couple of pitches, both times to friends. Both of the winners du jour are fine writers and even better humans, and even in the disappointment of losing a fantastic job, I’ve found myself happy for them. They have their own businesses to run, their own mouths to feed, their own college savings accounts to fund. And because I want the best for them, because I want to incarnate the notion of love-thy-neighbor (and and thy neighbor’s kids), it’s hard to see this as a zero-sum game.

My friend, my neighbor has won, and shouldn’t I celebrate his success?

And celebration of the neighbor aside, each pitch I lost taught me a little more about the next pitch. As I wrote in my series on failure, the loss taught me something about myself, my process, or my skill set. The lessons from loss always make us stronger, always refine us.

The zero-sum-game ethos is an absolute killer. It will haunt you, will cut all the right veins, will drain you and fill you back up with jealously, anger, bitterness, and resentment. Love of your neighbor, celebration of your neighbor–these are the antidotes to the poison.

Ask yourself where you might be playing zero-sum games in your own life. Ask where the all-or-nothing, winner-take-all mindset has taken root, where it’s given birth to jealousy or resentment against your neighbor. Ask where it’s made you covet your neighbor’s clients, career, or opportunities. Practice rooting these games out by loving your neighbor as you would want to be loved, by celebrating them as you would want to be celebrated. This is a key to vocational freedom.

***BECOME A PATRON***

Do you like the content here or in my Tiny Letter? Then I’d like to invite you to join my Patreon community. What is Patreon? It’s a way for you, the reader, to become a patron, a person supporting the arts (my art to be precise), and receive behind the scenes content in return. Visit my Patreon page for more information. And, if you enjoy this website and haven’t yet signed up for the bi-monthly Tiny Letter newsletter, feel free to sign up below.

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